Risk management—reducing a project's exposure to a range of internal and external risks—is often thought of as a purely “technical” issue. This paper presents evidence and examples of how project risks can also be managed through a thorough evaluation of societal risks. These societal or non-technical risks (NTRs) are important. Research suggests that the majority of project delays in large oil and gas projects are caused by NTRs, a higher percentage than purely technical causes of delays.

In managing adverse social impacts and in maximizing social benefits, a project can look to map and engage with surrounding stakeholders. In doing this, projects are better able to understand their impacts to surrounding communities and to understand which mitigations can increase societal acceptability and thus decrease societal risks. Such NTR management could be by better siting project facilities, smarter mapping of receptors in designing discharge points, or through adaptive planning. By reducing a project's social impact it is possible to help a project reduce its risk exposure, thus to better manage NTRs such as permitting delays.

This paper examines the way in which projects can adopt a more informed approach to understanding and managing societal risks for oil and gas developments. Using social impact assessment as an upfront planning tool—rather than a permitting process after key planning, design, and siting decisions have been made—is essential to this approach. While reducing the physical footprint of a project is not always possible the social footprint (the effect of a project on surrounding communities and stakeholders) can be an important form of mitigation.

By looking at social impact assessment as a risk management tool, rather than a response to regulatory requirements, this allows projects to be more in control of the decisions they are making. Although development impacts may be unavoidable, the risks these impacts pose to surrounding communities—and thus the risks to the project—can be managed and mitigated in a way that allows for more constructive community relationships and better management of external project risks.

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